RSTV: POLICY WATCH- ANTI-MARITIME PIRACY BILL
The Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill was taken up in the Lok Sabha by the Government in the winter session of parliament. The Bill is aimed at promoting the safety and security of India’s maritime trade, and the safety of its crew members. It seeks to provide stringent punishment, including the death penalty or life imprisonment, to those involved in piracy at sea. In recent times, the menace of piracy is growing. The Gulf of Aden, which separates Somalia and Yemen, has seen a major spurt in attacks by pirates operating from Somalia since 2008. This route is used by 2000 ships each month for trade between Asia and Europe and the East coast of Africa.
Who are pirates?
- A pirate is a seaman, robber who attacks, seizes or destroys any ship at high seas and sometimes even harbors at the shore.
- Besides that, they were involved in many other illegal activates like smuggling and slave trades.
- The pirates are doing that for personal interest, without any legal rights.
- And as those attacks were unauthorized acts, they were treated like criminals in all countries.
The Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019:
The Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Ministry of External Affairs, Dr. Subhrahmanyam Jaishankar, on December 9, 2019.
The Bill provides for prevention of maritime piracy and prosecution of persons for such piracy related crimes.
Key features of the Bill include:
- Applicability of the Bill: The Bill will apply to all parts of the sea adjacent to and beyond the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone of India. Exclusive Economic Zone refers to the area of sea to which India has exclusive rights for economic activities.
- Piracy: The Bill defines piracy as any illegal act of violence, detention, or destruction committed against a ship, aircraft, person or property, for private purposes, by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft. Such acts may be carried out on the high seas or in any place outside the jurisdiction of India. Inciting or intentionally facilitating such acts would also qualify as piracy. It also includes any other act that is considered piracy under international law. Piracy also includes voluntary participation in the operations of a pirate ship or aircraft. This includes a ship or aircraft which is either: (i) intended to be used for committing any act of piracy, or (ii) has been used to commit an act of piracy, and is still under the control of the persons guilty of such act.
- Offences and penalties: An act of piracy will be punishable with: (i) imprisonment for life; or (ii) death, if the act of piracy includes attempted murder, or causes death. An attempt to commit, aid, abet, or procure for an act of piracy, or directing others to participate in an act of piracy will be punishable with up to 14 years of imprisonment, and a fine. Offences will be considered extraditable. This means that the accused can be transferred to any country for prosecution with which India has signed an extradition treaty. In the absence of such treaties, offences will be extraditable on the basis of reciprocity between the countries.
- Arrest and seizure: A ship or aircraft under the control of pirates may be seized, persons aboard may be arrested, and the property on board may also be seized. The seizure may be carried out only by: (i) a warship or military aircraft of the Indian Navy, (ii) a ship or aircraft of the India Coast Guard, or (iii) ships or aircrafts on government service, and authorised for such purpose.
- Designated Court: The central government, in consultation with the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court, may notify the Sessions Courts to be the Designated Courts under this Bill. It may also notify the territorial jurisdiction of each Designated Court.
- Jurisdiction of the Court: The Designated Court will try offences committed by: (i) a person in the custody of the Indian Navy or Coast Guard, regardless of his nationality, (ii) a citizen of India, a resident foreign national in India, or a stateless person. Further, the Court may try a person even if the person is not physically present in the Court.
The Court will not have jurisdiction over offences committed on a foreign ship, unless an intervention is requested by: (i) the country of origin of the ship, (ii) the ship owner, or (iii) any other person on the ship. Warships and government ships employed for non-commercial purposes will not be under the jurisdiction of the Court.
- Presumption of guilt: The presumption of guilt will be on the accused if: (i) the accused is in possession of arms, explosives and other equipment which were used or intended for use in committing the offence, (ii) there is evidence of use of force against the ship’s crew or passengers, and (iii) there is evidence of the intended use of bombs and arms against the crew, passengers or cargo of a ship.
How important is this bill? And why was there a need of it?
- The government is bringing the law as part of commitment made by India while signing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982. The UNCLOS was ratified by India in 1995.
- The introduction of the bill comes days after some 18 Indians aboard a crude oil carrier were kidnapped off the coast of Nigeria
- India does not have a separate domestic legislation on piracy.
- The provisions of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to armed robbery and the Admiralty jurisdiction of certain courts have been invoked in the past to prosecute pirates apprehended by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard. But in the absence of any specific law relating to the offence of maritime piracy in India, problems are being faced in ensuring effective prosecution of the pirates.
- Our penal codes are only applicable upto the territorial waters.
- It is noted that incidents of piracy has been growing since 2008, with the Gulf of Aden seeing a major uptick in attacks by pirates from Somalia. This route is used by about 2,000 ships each month for trade between Asia and Europe and East Coast of Africa. With the enhanced (international) naval presence in the Gulf of Aden, pirates shifted their area of operations eastwards and southwards.
It was very important to have a domestic anti-piracy legislation to provide the necessary legal framework within the country for the prosecution of those involved in piracy-related crimes and the bill is right move in the direction.